Students flooded onto Parliament Square and Westminster Bridge yesterday to protest against the conversion of grants into loans and the consequent increase in debt to the government.
David Cameron formed a private committee of 18 MPs last Thursday to replace annual grants of £3,387 per student with loans of up to £8,200 and £10,702 for students living in London.
The decision, to be implemented from September 2016, enraged activists and students, numbering in the hundreds, who sat and chanted on Westminster Bridge, blocking traffic for hours.
“It’s very lively. People have been blocking the bridge now for about an hour so I think it’s pretty impressive and hopefully we’ll send the message to the government that civil disobedience is going to take a step up,” said Shelly Asquith, Vice President of the National Union of Students.
The formation of a private committee outraged many opposition MPs, particularly from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party as they did not get the chance to debate the change in legislation in the House of Commons.
Labour MP for Ilford North, Wes Streeting tweeted: “My argument is that every MP should have been able to vote on it.”
The Tories will have to offer a debate as an online petition against the scrapping of grants recorded 120,000 signatures. The government is bound to consider all petitions which count at least 100,000.
Shelly Asquith added: “I’m confident that this is the kind of action we need to take in order to force change.”
Cameron defended his decision last week in the house of Commons “It’s absolutely right because our changes have shown, despite all the warnings from the party opposite, that more people are taking part in higher education and more people from low income backgrounds are taking part in higher education, and I’m confident that will continue to be the case.”
Students converged last November in central London to demand a reduction in tuition fees as well as the conservation of grants. Scuffles broke out between students and police, who made several arrests.
NUS President Megan Dunn said: “Students are already facing rising amounts of debt when they graduate, so piling even bigger debts on the shoulders of the poorest students is extremely unfair. The government’s proposals risk putting them off university altogether.”